The Natchez Open determined in playoff, golfer aces ninth hole

Published 10:51 am Monday, October 30, 2023

NATCHEZ — Michael Arnaud of Covington, La. won both the professional division and had to fend off Casey Ham of Natchez in a sudden-death playoff to win the overall championship last weekend in the fourth edition of The Natchez Open at the Natchez Golf Club at Duncan Park.

Arnaud started Sunday’s final round trailing Austin Vukovits of Noblesville, Ind. In the pros division by two shots and Ham by five shots overall.  But Arnaud fought back starting on the end of the front nine and continuing on the front stretch of the back nine for a round of 7-under-par 64 for a three-day total of 201.

Ham won both the senior amateur and amateur divisions with rounds of 68-64-69 for a three-day total of 201. Arnaud struggled on Friday with a 1-under-par 70, but started his comeback with a solid round of 67 in Saturday’s second round to be at 137 total after Day 2.

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“Friday was a culmination of a lot of things. I had Q school I drove up Friday from home. My wife was sick. The course overall played tough this year as dry and as tough as it was,” Arnaud said. “A lot of the courses are in the same condition as Natchez. The first couple of years you could miss by one or two yards and you could get up and down. Now you’re missing by six or seven yards and you don’t have a whole lot of options. You have to take your medicine and pitch out from near the trees.”

Arnaud said winning the tournament for the second time in three years felt “pretty good’ to him. He added, “Greg Brooking (golf course superintendent at the Natchez Golf Club at Duncan Park) does a great job hosting the tournament and making us feel at home.”

Arnaud noted that he really got his final round going with a birdie on the very-tough par-3 ninth hole. He then added an eagle on No. 10 and birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. Meanwhile, Ham, who dominated the competition in both of his divisions, struggled on Sunday and that allowed Arnaud to get back in contention for the overall championship.

“I figured if I could post 7-, 8-, 9-under, I could put the pressure on. It feels better doing the chasing than being chased,” Arnaud said. “I had six birdies, and eagle, and one bogey.”

The playoff between Arnaud and Ham started, and ended on No. 1. Arnaud’s second shot landed about 15 feet from the hole while Ham’s second shot came up about 25 feet away from the hole. Ham had a tough downhill put and tried to be aggressive thinking he needed birdie to win. Instead his putt landed nearly six feet past the hole. Arnaud hit a good lag putt that he said he wanted to make. But it landed just three inches short and he made the putt for par. Ham’s putt for par to extend the playoff lipped out and Arnaud was once again overall champ.

“I hit a good wedge shot from (the fairway). I tried to play it smart and get it close. Casey had a tough putt. I hit a good lag down there,” Arnaud said. “I was pulling for Casey to make that putt (for par). In the end, you take the win. I feel for Casey. He really wanted to win. Casey’s a good guy and a really good golfer.”

Brooking said grand sponsor Taco Bell and supporting sponsor GO MART came through for this tournament, adding, “Without Taco Bell, we have no tournament. We have no Natchez Open.” He also wanted to thank Randy Smith, who donated $1,000 to the first person who made a hole-in-one during the tournament. That claim went to Dale White of Fort Worth, Texas, who played in the super senior first flight and aced the par-3 ninth hole on Sunday.

Efforts to reach Ham for comments on how he played in the tournament on Monday morning were unsuccessful.

Pete Powell of Natchez won the Super Senior Division Championship Flight with rounds of 75-71-70 for a three-day total of 216. He held off Brooking, who had rounds of 76-73-72 to finish at 221.

“I played pretty good. I hit it pretty good. The greens were fast and the fairways were hard. It felt good,” Powell said. “I hit the ball really well and didn’t make any critical mistakes. I had some bogeys and had some birdies. I didn’t have any doubles, so that helped.”

Powell said it felt good to beat not only Brooking after their battle in the previous weekend’s Natchez Senior Men’s and Ladies’ Golf Championships, but also some of the best senior amateurs from Mississippi and other states.

“Not only was Greg there, but it was the who’s who in the senior amateurs in the state. Ricky Sims was there. He won four senior events and three super senior events. Ricky has been the best senior in the state the last 15 years,” Powell said. “Brother Sandifer is a past Mississippi Open champion. Me and Greg had an advantage because we know the course better than they did. But we had a lot of good seniors out there.”

Brooking said trying to host the tournament and play in the tournament was hard to pull off, but he said the did the best that he could — especially not having a full crew to take care of the course.

“Every morning I got out there at 5 a.m. I was lucky to play as well as I played considering the stress I had of running the tournament,” Brooking said. “We were down two men, so we didn’t have a full crew and that made it tougher. In the weeks prior, we worked to get it in the best shape we could watering it because it’s been so dry. All in all, I’m happy with my play. It wasn’t my best, but it’s what I had.”

Brooking said that he was more concerned running the tournament when Sunday’s final round started, but he noted that he tried his best to catch Powell. He said that was proud that Powell won the super senior championship flight. He added that he was not disappointed that he could not catch him.

“I’m very proud of Pete. He’s won 11 city titles and now he’s got a senior Natchez Open under his belt,” Brooking said. “The people of Natchez won The Natchez Open. It shows that Natchez has some strong golfers. And Pete being one of the best. We had 75 golfers. Three withdrew during the tournament. Seventy-two finished.”

Greg Brooking ran the tournament and played in it. He said every morning he was out there at 5 a.m. to help. He managed to play pretty well under the stress of running the tournament.

Duncan Park was down two men, so Brooking did not have a full staff this weekend. The course is difficult to manage during a drought year but he did the best he could. Brooking was pleased at the end of the weekend.

“All in all, I’m happy with my play. It wasn’t my best, but it’s what it had. Going into the last day, Pete had a three-stroke lead. I was more concerned running the tournament,” Brooking said. “I’m very proud of Pete. I’m proud that he won. The people of Natchez won The Natchez Open. It shows that Natchez has some strong golfers. And Pete being one of the best. Now he’s got a senior Natchez Open under his belt. We had 75 golfers. Three withdrew during the tournament. Seventy-two finished”